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Bmw of N. Am. v. Gore

Supreme Court of the United States

October 11, 1995, Argued ; May 20, 1996, Decided

No. 94-896.

Opinion

 [***818]  [*562]  [**1592]    JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

 ] The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits a State from imposing a "'grossly excessive'" punishment on a tortfeasor. TXO Production Corp. v. Alliance [***819]   Resources Corp., 509 U.S. 443, 454, 125 L. Ed. 2d 366, 113 S. Ct. 2711 (1993) (and cases cited). The wrongdoing involved in this case was the decision by a national distributor of automobiles not to advise its dealers, and hence their customers, of predelivery  [**1593]  damage to new cars when the cost of repair amounted to less than 3 percent of the car's suggested retail price. The question presented  [*563]   [****9]  is whether a $ 2 million punitive damages award to the purchaser of one of these cars exceeds the constitutional limit.

In January 1990, Dr. Ira Gore, Jr. (respondent), purchased a black BMW sports sedan for $ 40,750.88 from an authorized BMW dealer in Birmingham, Alabama. After driving the car for approximately nine months, and without noticing any flaws in its appearance, Dr. Gore took the car to "Slick Finish," an independent detailer, to make it look "'snazzier than it normally would appear.'" 646 So. 2d 619, 621 (Ala. 1994). Mr. Slick, the proprietor, detected evidence that the car had been repainted. 2 [****10]  Convinced that he had been cheated, Dr. Gore brought suit against petitioner BMW of North America (BMW), the American distributor of BMW automobiles. 3 Dr. Gore alleged, inter alia, that the failure to disclose that the car had been repainted constituted suppression of a material fact. 4 The complaint prayed for $ 500,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, and costs.

 At trial, BMW acknowledged that it had adopted a nationwide policy in 1983 concerning cars that were damaged in the course of manufacture or transportation. If the cost of repairing the damage exceeded 3 percent of the car's suggested  [*564]  retail price, the car was placed in company service for a period of time and then sold as used. If the repair cost did not exceed 3 percent of the suggested retail price, however, the car was sold as new without advising the dealer that any repairs had been [****11]  made. Because the $ 601.37 cost of repainting Dr. Gore's car was only about 1.5 percent of its suggested retail price, BMW did not disclose the damage or repair to the Birmingham dealer.

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517 U.S. 559 *; 116 S. Ct. 1589 **; 134 L. Ed. 2d 809 ***; 1996 U.S. LEXIS 3390 ****; 64 U.S.L.W. 4335; 96 Cal. Daily Op. Service 3490; 96 Daily Journal DAR 5747; 9 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 585

BMW OF NORTH AMERICA, INC., PETITIONER v. IRA GORE, JR.

Prior History:  [****1]  ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ALABAMA.

Disposition: 646 So.2d 619, reversed and remanded.

CORE TERMS

punitive damages, award of punitive damages, repairs, cases, disclosure, reprehensible, damages, compensatory damages, punitive award, awards, caps, percent, nondisclosure, repainted, disclose, constraining, courts, out-of-state, punish, dealers, suggested retail price, manufacturers, misconduct, grossly, state court, allocates, ratio, disclosure requirements, determines, nationwide

Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Procedural Due Process, Scope of Protection, Torts, Types of Damages, Punitive Damages, General Overview, Civil Procedure, Remedies, Damages, Punitive Damages, Environmental Law, Land Use & Zoning, Constitutional Limits, Measurement of Damages, Relations Among Governments, Governments, State & Territorial Governments, Relations With Governments, Congressional Duties & Powers, Commerce Clause, Police Powers, Criminal Law & Procedure, Adjustments & Enhancements, Criminal History, Foreign Convictions, Three Strikes, Commercial Law (UCC), Application & Construction, Damages, Business Torts, Fraud & Misrepresentation, Compensatory Damages, Antitrust & Trade Law, Consumer Protection, Deceptive & Unfair Trade Practices, Constitutional Requirements, Sentencing, Fines, Excessive Fines, Judicial Review, Business & Corporate Compliance, Transportation Law, Interstate Commerce, State Powers